Still on 7 October 1989, the SED leadership had celebrated the 40th anniversary of the founding of the GDR with large land and naval military parades, indicating it as a necessary result of history and as a “turning point in the history of the German people”: a month later it would be forced to open the Berlin wall (which Honecker himself had predicted, still in January, a century of existence), without however being able to save himself from the general collapse of communism in Europe. Six months later, the first free elections would have consecrated the advent of democracy and opened the way to unification, first economic, achieved on 2 July, and then state, achieved on 3 October 1990.
The context and fundamental premise of the collapse of the regime were the processes of reform and democratic and liberal transformation that took place in Central-Eastern Europe and, above all, the new course of the USSR: no longer, therefore, movements of reform and democratization in a single satellite state, or in two, as in 1953, 1956, 1968 and 1980, but a general movement that found its fulcrum precisely in the ” leading state ”. But the SED leadership firmly intended to oppose these tendencies – constituting with Czechoslovakia, Romania (and also Bulgaria) a front line against Gorbachev’s line – thanks to the gigantic secret police apparatus (Stasi) which, organized under the minister general E., MfS), counted on 85,000 full-time employees (with units with military structure and equipment, with control centers for the entire telephone network, etc.) and on an even higher number of spies and infiltrators in each institution and in every environment like the Offiziere im besonderen Einsatz (“officers on special mission”). In this way, the SED leadership believed they could resist. In June, Neues Deutschland first, an organ of the SED, and then the Volkskammer had expressed their applause to the bloody repression in Beijing, and at a summit of the MfS, on 31 August 1989, to the semi-effusive question of the minister whether “the explosion of 17 June” was imminent (date of the insurrection of 1953), the Leipzig commander himself had ensured that he was holding the situation “firmly in hand”. Still on the occasion of the same celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the GDR, the harsh warning publicly expressed by the Soviet leader, “whoever arrives too late will be punished by life”, went unheard by Honecker.
According to Petsinclude, the action that undermined the regime was twofold: the overwhelming wave of refugees and the growing pressure of currents of internal opposition.
Fearful of being locked up in one of the last strongholds of royal socialism; increasingly intolerant of the daily reality of a party, police, bureaucratic and omnipresent regime; depressed by the now irreparable collapse of the economy, a rapidly growing number of East Germans were determined to do whatever it takes to go to the West. To give rise to this movement of flight, which would soon have greatly exceeded the 40,000 legal emigrants, refugees and ransomed in 1988, to then become an avalanche, was the dismantling, by the Hungarian government, of the barbed wire along the border with the Austria started in May 1989. East German refugees took refuge in the BRD embassies in Budapest and Prague and in the Permanent Representation in East Berlin; but it was the passage of about 3,000 refugees to Austria, tolerated by the Hungarian authorities and helped by the population, in August, that was the real start of the mass escapes. The opening of the borders with Austria, carried out on 11 September by the Hungarian government against the violent opposition of the GDR, allowed 15,000 East Germans to pass into the BRD in just three days. In the first ten months of the year, the movement of flight and emigration reached the number of about 225,000 people. 000 East Germans to move into the BRD. In the first ten months of the year, the movement of flight and emigration reached the number of about 225,000 people. 000 East Germans to move into the BRD. In the first ten months of the year, the movement of flight and emigration reached the number of about 225,000 people.
This avalanche of refugees did not remain without effect on the internal opinion of the GDR, and not only due to the almost omnipresence of Western television and radio: it acted as a catalyst on the opposition that had been forming; a month earlier demonstrations in Leipzig had claimed freedom to travel. This request, in addition to a widespread, largely pre-political rejection of the daily reality of the GDR (which seemed to preclude any hope of a more autonomous management of life, thanks to some elementary personal freedom) included ferments of more specifically political opposition.
Demonstrations were repeated in September and October, with increasing mass participation, in Leipzig, East Berlin, Dresden, Magdeburg and numerous other cities, challenging the brutality of the police apparatus. Faced with the largest demonstrations ever seen since the insurrection of 17 June 1953 onwards, on 9 October 1989 in Leipzig, a bloody repression came close to, averted at the last moment by the mediation of the director of the Gewandhaus orchestra, K. Masur.